Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" is a visually stunning, yet tender film centered around Victor (Johnny Depp), a painfully awkward young man who is about to be entered into an arranged marriage by his parents, The Van Dort's (Paul Whitehouse and Tracey Ullman), wealthy fishmongers who aspire to a higher status in life. Victor is to marry Victoria (Emily Watson), the daughter of the Everglot's (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney), a couple with great status but who are nearly destitute, and despite the obvious quirks and dreadful dynamics of the two sets of parents we find out that these two young people actually do have quite the spark about them.
Unfortunately, Victor has a horrible time at the rehearsal and can't remember his vows...leading him off into the words where, while practicing, he inadvertently puts the wedding ring on the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter), a young woman who was murdered on her wedding day for her parent's money.
The brilliance of "Corpse Bride" is in its acceptance of its characters. The Corpse Bride, named Emily, is a sympathetic character, not a frightening one...and Bonham Carter captures wondrously a woman whose dreams were shattered and yet, quite simply, longs to be freed from this experience. The three core characters, Emily, Victor and Victoria are all sympathetic, authentic characters caught in a rather awkward situation that only Tim Burton could truly present.
Much has been made of the film's abbreviated length, and at 76 minutes it definitely flies by quickly yet only begins to feel a tad rushed towards the ending's quick resolution. In many ways, "Corpse Bride" plays out like poetry. Burton is often content to allow the visual images to tell the story, rather than weighing down the film with excessive sub-plots or excessive dialogue. This approach only occasionally falls short, and "Corpse Bride" ends up flowing together beautifully with astounding production design, stunning stop-motion animation and a constantly entertaining, often funny score and soundtrack from Danny Elfman. Perhaps my only minor quibble with the animation itself lies in the absence of joy in the faces of characters who were expressing such a feeling...such as when Victor reaches the "netherworld" with Emily and meets his childhood dog, Scraps. The affection is obvious, and yet never really indicated visually.
"Corpse Bride" also loses points for a rather abrupt ending, and for those few occasions when jokes simply didn't work...yet, in reality, these occasions are few and far between.
The supporting cast of voices includes Richard Grant (as Lord Barkis. Grant's performance works quite nicely, however, this plot twist was remarkably predictable along with its resolution. Christopher Lee does a marvelous job as Pastor Galswells, Danny Elfman shows up voicing Bonejangles and Erin Reiter doubles up as the hilarious Maggot and also as Town Crier. Deep Roy, fresh from his performance in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," voices General Bonesapart here.
John August pens his third script for Burton, and further distances himself from his "Charlie's Angels" days.
The entire leading cast is outstanding, including Depp's awkward yet sincere Victor, Watson's romantic yet determined Victoria, Bonham Carter's longing Emily and both sets of parents.
There is, perhaps, no greater director alive when it comes to a respectful, dignified and human approach to the gothic universe. Whereas these types of films are often caricatures, Burton fleshes out his characters in such a way that draws you into their lives. This film would have failed without resolving the hopes and dreams of its main characters, but even with a quickly paced 76 minute film Burton manages to find peaceful resolution for all involved. It is a masterful directing job worthy of recognition.
Likewise, Danny Elfman's score and soundtrack may, in fact, be the best score of Elfman's career. It's a stunning accompaniment that moves this beautiful poetry towards a sort of performance art that comes to live on the screen. The songs, from the lyrics to the music to the performances, are often funny and constantly entertaining. Anything less than an Oscar nomination for Elfman would be a travesty.
Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride" doesn't quite achieve an "A" listing...its brevity, lack of joy and brief lulls make it impossible for me to elevate the film to that degree. Yet, I simply can't deny it. "Corpse Bride" captivated me in a way that even "The Nightmare Before Christmas" did not captivate me. It made me care about the characters, long for their happiness and even forget about the star status of those who lent these characters their voices. Tim Burton has, for the second time this year, created a film a stunning visual beauty, yet in some ways this film even succeeds where "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" did not. Whereas "Charlie" occasionally got swallowed up in its imagery, "Corpse Bride" instead wraps strong characterizations, witty dialogue and a simple story around images of great beauty and grace.
If there is one film you are going to see this weekend, then I strongly suggest you say "I do!" to Tim Burton's "Corpse Bride."